AKA “The Baal Shem Tov and the Bishop”
The book “The Spirituality of Imperfection” by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham, has been a favorite source of reflections for me for about 15 years. One of the stories I love best is from Jewish lore. I call this the story of The Baal Shem Tov and the Bishop. The Baal Shem Tov before he died, asked a disciple to carry on his work, going far and wide to tell stories about the master. In a far country, a wealthy nobleman was very happy to receive the disciple, and eagerly waited to hear the stories. But his mind went blank. Finally, after a few days, he started to leave, and then he remembered one story. He was with the Master when they came to a Christian town, just before Easter. The usual thing there was to kill a Jew, in the fervor around the crucifixion of Jesus. So the disciple was very afraid. But the Baal Shem Tov went to a big house, along the square, and threw open the upper window to look at the procession of people coming into the square. The bishop in his robes was very imposing. The Baal Shem Tov told his disciple to go down and tell the bishop that the Baal Shem Tov wanted to see him. The disciple was trembling with fear, but went to the bishop, and was amazed that the bishop listened, and after his sermon, went with the disciple, to see the Master. They went to an inner room, spoke for a long while. Then the Baal Shem Tov came out, and said now they could go away. The disciple was very sorry this was such a fragment of a story, but he did tell the nobleman about it. The effect in the nobleman was immense. He recognized the disciple, and he said, that the bishop in the story was he himself. He was descended from a line of distinguished rabbis. He had converted to Christianity in a time of persecution, out of fear, and had been praised, and raised to being a bishop. He had had a dream, in which he recognized that his soul was in peril. The Baal Shem Tov had told him that he should return to a simple life of holiness and prayer, and give up his money and titles. He should have hope, and “When a man comes and tells you your own story, you will know that your sins are forgiven.” When a man comes to tell you your own story, you KNOW that your sins are forgiven. And (what is always true), is that when you are forgiven, you are healed.
I love this story, because although I am a Christian, I understand that there are people who are and must be, true to their own faith, their own understanding of God. I do not think we should try to convert or change people’s faith. What I do think we should work to change, is our own behavior, and especially that part of us which is conscious, which has that “still small voice” of conscience. Expanding our ability to love, to forgive, and to have patience and forbearance, is what we are being invited to DO. God calls to each of us, and God forgives us, and we need to hear that voice of forgiveness. We never hear the voice of God when we are self-satisfied, but only when we are trying to live with peace, with serenity and courage, and to do the will of God. Putting aside our own egos, trying to help meet the needs of others around us, is what most heals. When we reach out in love, in solidarity, and forgive each other, we are most like the God we want to be close to, and with whom we want to be in relationship.